To most creatives, the idea of starting a clothing line is a dream come true.
If you have the ideas, the energy, the talent, and the resources, you have what it takes to start a clothing line successfully.
But there’s a lot more to the design process than meets the eye. And it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t even know where to start.
You’re in luck, though, because we are going to give you every detail on how to start a clothing line, from start to finish.
Ready to get started? Here we go.
8 Steps to Start a Fashion Brand
1. Create a Business Plan
Remember the expression, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail?” That definitely holds true when starting a line of clothing. Before getting started, take some time to visualize the end goal of your business. What do you want to accomplish? What kind of stores do you want to sell to? What customers will go shopping at your clothing business? Knowing this information is important when you start a clothing line because it will guide all your later business decisions about design, branding, textiles, and production. It’ll also help you in making your business proposal when you start expanding and looking for retailers and distributors.
Not only do you need to create a business plan for your line of clothing, but you also need to go back and reference that business plan frequently as you go through these other steps.
Remember to include all the components of a good business plan:
Executive summary. This includes key information about the name of your business, your mission, goals, and values.
Company overview. Here you give a brief history of your clothing company and outline what the line does.
Product/services. Explain what your clothing line is going to offer and how you plan to make a profit.
Marketing strategies. You will need to give a detailed analysis of your target customers: demographics, business trends, customer segmentation, etc.
Sales strategy. How are you actually going to sell your products for your line of clothing? What channels will you use? How will pricing affect your sales strategy?
Competitive analysis. Include a description of all potential competitors with your line of clothing, direct and indirect.
Production plan. Here you will provide a timeline for the production, marketing, and sales of your clothing.
Operation plan. What are the functions of different stakeholders in your line of clothing? Who will take care of business tasks, design, and production? This part of the business plan details the daily working of your clothing company, and who does what.
Financial analysis and projections. This is where you analyze the budget for your line of clothing, noting what you’ll need for an initial investment in your business, how you will use that investment and the timeline for generating income.
While it may seem like you have to do a lot of paperwork when you start a clothing line, spending time on your business plan now will save you lots of time and aggravation on your line of clothing later on.
2. Research Fashion Trends or Needs
When you start a clothing line, you will want to remain true to your brand in spite of changing fashion trends. However, you have to know the rules before you can break them.
Go to some fashion shows and take note of prevailing colors, shapes, and themes. If you go to a few different fashion shows, notice any trend that seems to repeat throughout all of them.
While these fashions may take a while to trickle down to your target market in their daily shopping, fashion shows are a good way to stay on top of what may be coming down the pike.
Paying attention to influencers and what they’re wearing is another way to know what is trending and worth pursuing. Google Trends can validate your research, showing you what the breakout trends are for fashion.
Keep in mind that any trends you notice may need to be adapted to your target market. If you are planning to sell trendy and attractive maternity clothes with your line of clothing, for example, you will need to think about how a particular trend can be adapted to flatter a pregnant body.
3. Develop Your Fashion Branding
If your clothing line is going to be successful, it’s essential to figure out how your brand is going to stand out from others. Remember that the most successful clothing lines hone in on a very specific market where there might be a demand. Instead of baby clothes, you might consider narrowing it down to eco-friendly baby clothing for your line of clothing. Instead of activewear, you might focus on comfortable activewear for plus-size women.
Niche. Here is where you get really specific in defining your niche market, determining exactly which customers your line of clothing is going to appeal to within a larger market.
Design. How are you going to get your clothing to look attractive to your target market? Think about pattern, material, colors, and fit.
Quality. Decide what steps are necessary to ensure you can stand by the quality of your clothing brand. No one wants to charge their credit card for clothing that shrinks in the wash or falls apart after a few wearings.
Brand. How will you market and package your brand? Consider how your brand will get represented in your target market.
As you develop your brand, stay focused on differentiation. Remember that the clothing market is saturated with products across every niche. Think about how your clothing will stand out when someone is shopping for it.
You could also make this happen by printing funny slogans on it, creating a fit that’s more flattering to a particular group, or formulating a relatable brand story.
Alex Register of KLSD, for example, opted to create a brand that radiates love and gratitude so that she can spread joy. She first started her clothing line by print screening shirts, totes, and hats in her own garage. She has since grown into a successful and unique brand.
Knowing who your target market is and staying true to your branding can pay off.
4. Find Inspiration From Others
Whatever else happens when you start a clothing line, make sure your creative inspiration never runs dry. Get connected with the social media accounts of fashion influencers so you’ll always know what they’re up to. Visit the brick and mortar establishments of popular designers. Newsletters, magazines, and podcasts about fashion are also great ways to get inspired for your line of clothing. And you can always check out fashion blogs and websites.
Pinterest is a great platform to get designs that inspire you. Create a board to collect images of clothing styles and fashion brands that speak to you for your line of clothing.
And don’t confine yourself to images of clothes. Even just by walking down the street, you can get colors and designs that appeal to you and could serve as inspiration for your next design. Observe textures, lines, shapes, and color combinations to find what you like.
And don’t forget friends and family. What do they need? What do they wear? What is their experience with clothing? Do they like screen printing? These conversations can give you that spark of creativity. Look at social media to find not only what your friends are wearing, but also to look at the clothing choices of celebrities they admire.
Lanai Moliterno, founder of Sozy, a women’s clothing line, says that she just wanted to fill a need.
“My own experience as a woman was that all of my most stylish clothes were too uncomfortable to wear all of the time. So I just started making clothing that was both comfortable and stylish.”
If you need something more concrete than a Pinterest board, consider putting up a bulletin board with clippings of interesting clothing designs and styles. And keeping a sketchbook is a time-tested way to keep your creativity going. Some designers take their sketchbooks every time they step out the door so that they can create a sketch of an interesting design whenever inspiration strikes.
5. Begin Fashion Design and Development
And now for the fun part! With a brand and niche market for your business in mind, the next step is to begin the experience of designing for your line of clothing. As with anything else, your first impression says a lot. This step is your opportunity to make your mark on the fashion world by producing a collection that your potential customers will remember. So you need to take your time to make the design truly fit who you are and the market you are trying to reach.
As much fun as you may have been having with this experience, don’t forget your budget. It’s tough to make it in the fashion business if the cost of producing your clothing eats into your profit excessively.
The experience of creating an attractive collection of clothing without breaking the bank will help you develop good business habits as you step forward with your line.
Begin with the sketches for your line and figure out which ones you’re going to make a reality, and how you’re going to do it. Unless you opt for print on demand, you will need to make decisions on materials, patterns, fit, and texture and put them all together into a collection you can be proud of. You’ll also want to consider extra adornments, like beads, lace, or buttons.
Other things to think about for your line:
Sleeve length and style
The shape and fullness of a blouse or shirt
Skirt length and fullness
The use of pleats
The kind of stitch you’ll use
The position of bodice darts
Try mixing and matching different combinations of fit, pattern, and color to get some fresh ideas and experience. Besides your sketchbook, consider using a dressmaker’s dummy to get an idea of what your finished product will look like.
Fashion design software can help you bring your ideas to reality:
When it comes to the experience of sourcing out fabrics and textiles, business networking is everything. By developing relationships with people in the know, you’ll have a wider pool from which to select when it comes time to find good fabric agents and designers to implement your vision. Trade shows and social media are great places to do this.
When it comes to fabric, you will want to give some thought as to whether a fabric mill, converter, or jobber is best for the needs of your brand, or if you just want something simple, like print on demand. To make a decision, ask questions about lead time, stock availability, shipping, minimum order quantities, and cost.
Depending on the needs of your clothing line, you may find a good local pattern maker for your materials and designs. Or you might experience more luck online, where there’s a larger variety of unique prints and patterns available.
7. Take Care of Clothing Production and Manufacturing
Once you’ve designed your clothes, the next step is to get help with the experience of manufacturing them.
At this step, you will want to do your research thoroughly. You want to find a clothing manufacturer who can help provide what your line needs affordably.
The location of the manufacturing facility is important because it affects the time needed for turn-around and shipping. You also want to look into their business history to make sure the company is reputable.
You will want to list out what services your line needs from a manufacturer so you can rule out those who don’t offer what you need.
Eventually, you should be able to come up with a list of manufacturers who may fit the needs of your clothing line. The next step at this point is making contact with them. Introduce yourself briefly and politely, and let them know exactly what you need help with. With any luck, a few of these manufacturers will respond to your request for contact.
Then you can put them through a more detailed screening process to narrow the list down to one. Ask for business references. Get samples of their work and experience. And try to get a feel for the timeliness of their communication, shipping, and work completion.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few manufacturers, the next step is to experience working with them to help produce a few samples of your own.
This step is critical to the manufacturing process because it gives you the experience of seeing what your finished product is going to look like. Getting samples from more than one factory gives you a concrete way to compare them and make an informed choice about your line. You can see not only the differences in things like fit and quality, but also cost.
Once you’ve found the manufacturer who can help produce the best quality clothes for your line at a reasonable price, it’s time for the next step.
8. Sell Your Clothing Line Online
Now that your clothes are in the process of being manufactured, the next step is to start selling them!
At this step, think about your brand and the image you want to project. You can use a logo, a business name, and even a slogan to help with this.
A framework to help you define your brand is to consider what your “brand pillars” are. These are three or four key ideas that express what your brand is all about. Once you come up with these, they can help give you a place to start in marketing your clothing line online.
A big part of starting a business is weaving your brand story into the marketing. Stories help make your brand relatable so that ordinary people who read it on your ecommerce platform can connect with your experience in a meaningful way.
Did you experience something in your personal life which made you realize there was a need for this type of clothing?
Is there something unique about the process of making your clothing?
Do you donate a portion of your proceeds to help a cause that means a lot to you?
You want to take elements like these to make a compelling brand story for your clothing line.
Ideally, your brand packaging (including slogan, logo, and story) will be ready to go as soon as your first collection comes back from the factory, so you will be ready to roll with your new business.
At this point, you might consider partnering with a business expert who can help you determine the exact pricing points you need to make a profit when starting a business.
FAQ About Starting Your Own Clothing Line
Here are the answers to a few common questions about how to start your own clothing line.
Where do I start with a clothing line?
You might feel overwhelmed by all these steps, but it helps to start by sitting down with old-school pencil and paper and list out exactly what you hope to accomplish with your new business. The first step is to figure out why it is that you want to start a clothing brand. If you’re sincere, running this business is going to end up taking all your time and concentration for the foreseeable future. Do you have what it takes? Make sure that you have a clear motivation for the experience before you start.
Next, figure out what the priorities and goals of your business are. These goals will help form the basis of your business plan, when you are ready to start writing it.
In the absence of a business degree, a bit of research on Google can help you figure out what business model you want for your clothing line.
The major types of business models are:
Print On Demand. This business model is cost effective and you can start with it quickly. Shipping is simple and inexpensive. However, you’re also likely to make less profit.
Private Label. This business model allows for the shipping of materials in bulk. It gives you more control over the finished product than print on demand, but also requires a fair amount of storage space.
Cut and Sew. In this business model, you do everything yourself. It requires a lot of time and capital to start, but brings you the potential for a greater profit.
How much does it cost to start your own clothing line?
This is not an easy question to answer. It all depends on your business model and the type of clothing you want to produce.
For a small collection of clothing items, you may be fine to start with just $500 or so to start. For a moderate-sized batch, you should start out with a budget between $1500 and $5000. But to start a major clothing business, you’re looking at an initial investment of up to $50,000.
No matter what the answers to these questions are, it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll need more capital than you think you do.
Talk to your bank and find out if they can help you with a small business loan to start. Also look into partner or angel investors to help fund your business. If you’re lucky, you may only need one or two.
You also need to be honest about the pros and cons of your financial situation. If you have a family to support, or you’re dependent on a regular income, you should think carefully before you start a fashion business unless you have saved up enough to meet all your living expenses while you’re working on getting your business going. In most cases, it takes at least one full year before a new business will start making a profit.
Whatever your goals are when you start, it’s wise to start with a firm idea of how much capital you have, how much you need, and how much you can get from partners and investors for your fashion business.
Is starting a clothing line worth it?
Ultimately, only you can answer that question.
There is more than one thing to consider to determine if it’s worth it to start a clothing line. Do you have the technical expertise to market your fashion business effectively online? Can you afford to design and manufacture enough clothing for your initial launch? Do you have the capability to produce clothing that meets professional-level standards?
If the answer to any of one of these questions is no, you may be biting off more than you can chew.
Once you start, it’s up to you to make your clothing line profitable and successful. You can make your fashion business worthwhile by sticking to these guidelines:
Carefully track expenses (especially when you start)
Get plenty of feedback on each one of your designs
Create and stick to a business plan
Use your own online store instead of trying to go into retail
Start small, and scale up as you grow
Don’t skimp on quality
Keep an eye on your business margins
Price your clothing items correctly
Get your target demographic excited about your clothing line business ahead of time
Reinvest early profits back into the business right away
Try multiple sales channels on social media to market your product
The truth is, the odds are stacked against any small clothing line, especially when you first start. But with a lot of passion and planning, you can make it happen.
How do I start a luxury clothing brand?
Basically, follow the same steps we’ve outlined above, as you would for any clothing line. However, there are some additional considerations when your business is trying to appeal to an affluent fashion market.
For one thing, the impression you make as a fashion designer with the first collection of your clothing line is even more critical in this market. The support of high-status customers and influencers for your private label is absolutely indispensable to get your luxury brand name off the ground.
If you truly want your clothing line to stand out in this fashion market, quality is of paramount importance. Your target customers want to know that they are getting a design that is unique and superior to everything else on the market.
One thing to remember: you are marketing not just clothing, but a lifestyle. To that end, think about the experience that your clothing line provides your customers. Consider offering high-end accessories (purses, sunglasses, earrings, etc.) alongside your clothing line.
Personalization is another way for a clothing line to appeal to the high-end customer. Learn about your customers’ personal preference and try to offer them a highly individualized experience. This will make them more loyal to your clothing line and more likely to recommend it to others.
One more thing: keep in mind that your business plan will look very different when launching a luxury brand. There are fewer customers who can afford luxury items, which means your clothing line will make fewer sales. Individual items will need to have higher price points to accommodate for the lower sales volume.
How much do clothing brands make?
It’s difficult to predict how much money you can make when you get started with your clothing line. The market is unpredictable, and today’s hot new trend is tomorrow’s old news.
It may be tempting to look at the examples of those few notable success stories where a clothing line made billions of dollars within a year.
Beyond that, clothing line revenue will vary depending on the quality of the item, the cost of production, and price points.
Those clothing companies that have enjoyed success for a period of years vary in terms of revenue. One such company, Nordstrom, had a net profit of $138 million in 2016. The Gap’s was $239 million, and L Brands was $181 million. But as these are industry leaders, this is probably not a realistic goal for a new clothing line just starting out.
Even clothing businesses that have failed often get one more chance online after their brick and mortar stores have closed.
According to Ziprecruiter, the average annual salary of a clothing line is around $35,000, or an hourly rate of about $17 an hour.
How do you start a brand?
The first step when starting a clothing line is to thoroughly research your market. Find out who your competitors are; analyze their logos and slogans and try to determine what makes their business so successful. Google their products and read customer reviews. What makes each of these companies alike? In what ways does each one stand out? Your goal here is to find something that they don’t offer, a missing design piece that your small business can fill.
Next find a specific target audience for your clothing and focus in on it. Refine your message to appeal to them. In doing this, it’s helpful to think of your brand as a person with unique characteristics that stand out from the crowd.
How do you price clothes?
There are several methods for determining price points for clothing in this business. One popular way is the Keystone Markup Method.
To use this method, begin with the cost of making the clothing item. To figure out what this number is, you will have to add up your costs for the following:
Costs for the manufacturing process
Multiply that number by two to get a wholesale price. Then multiply that number by two for the retail price. In some cases, you might have to multiply by 2.5 to cover taxes.
This is a basic business strategy which is easy to use.
Other methods, such as absorption pricing or backwards pricing, are also viable, but a bit more complex.
Is there an app where you can design your own clothes?
There are several apps which may be helpful to you in the design process for your clothing business.
Here are a few.
Pinterest functions as both a mood-board and a free collection of inspirational images, curated by other users. These users have done much of the work for you in adding items that can inspire designs for your clothing line and help you decide what you want to make. All you have to do is click to add them to your board.
Though popularly used for graphic design, Adobe Illustratorfunctions wonderfully as a tool for flat drawing and sketching. It makes it easy to experiment with colors and patterns to design your clothing line.
Sketchis loaded with features and plugins that make it a beautifully intuitive tool for designers. And new design features are being added all the time to help you focus in on what you want to make.
Instagramis essential for good networking when you start a clothing line. It allows you to post photos of your designs and to connect with others in the business, including customers.
Shopify makes it easy for you to set up your own online business, to connect with customers, and to design the space with plenty of customization for a unique shopping experience. It makes shipping easier, too.
So there you have it. A step-by-step guide to everything you need to start a clothing line.
And now it’s time for you to go ahead and conquer the fashion industry.
Marquis Matson is an SEO analyst, content marketer, and writer. She specializes in search engine optimization for ecommerce sites in the yoga and wellness niche. She lives as a digital nomad, spending time in Ecuador, California, Thailand, India, Australia, and more. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or at marquismatson.com.